On Thursday, May 17th through Saturday, May 19, 2018 I, aka Condor 3, had the pleasure to hike part of West Virginia and four sections in Maryland with my friend, Jamie, aka Commander Plodder.
DAY ONE- Thursday, May 17, 2018
Our original plan for Day One was to start at the Blackburn Trail Center in Round Hill, Virginia and hike north into Harpers Ferry (HF), West Virginia. That plan was still in effect when we first dropped one car at the Tea Horse Hostel, 1312 W. Washington Street, Harpers Ferry, WV which would serve as our home base for this three day adventure. Since we wanted to hike northbound to HF, we drove south into Virginia to park at the parking area at the Blackburn Trail Center off Virginia Rt. 713 aka Appalachian Trail Road. As we made the right hand turn onto the Appalachian Trail Road, we saw about four vehicles parked near the stop sign. That was our first indication that something was wrong as the parking areas we planned to use were still about two miles away at the trail center. When we looked further down the road, we saw it had flooded and the below sign had been posted.
As we were further assessing the situation, we noticed a local resident named Mike walking through the high water in order to get to his car which was one of the cars at the stop sign near us. Daily flooding had been washing the road away and each attempt to place more stone to repair the road was thwarted by the heavy rains and flooding in this area. Local residents decided to park their cars on the safe side of the flooded/washed away roadway in order to slosh through the high water to get to their car. At least their car would not be trapped on the wrong side of the washout.
We decided quickly that our hiking plan for Day Two now became the hiking plan for Day One. We wished Mike well and headed north to park at the Gathland State Park in Maryland. This would allow us to do a southbound hike which would comprise of Maryland AT Section #6 (6.7 miles), Maryland AT Section #7 (3.3 miles) and then just the northern .9 miles in HF which is part of VA AT Section #1 which would be a total of 10.9 miles. At the end of our hike we would make a right turn onto the blue blazed side trail leading through a few local streets in HF to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters. Simply put, we would end up at the same location, just from a different direction. There was a convenient parking lot near the main intersection of Gapland Road and Arnoldtown Road which is the center of the Gathland State Park. Thanks to the rain and it being a weekday, I think we were only the second vehicle in the lot.
This imposing stone structure is the War Correspondents Memorial which is next to the parking area. The small plaque on the front stone recognizes the First New Jersey Brigade’s efforts during the Civil War on September 14, 1862 at which time the Brigade would suffer losses of 40 killed and 134 wounded in a battle near South Mountain, Jefferson, Maryland.
The directory on the upper right lists the names of eighteen army correspondents killed during the Civil War. Despite the rain and wind, Commander Plodder and I were ready to start our hike. A quick selfie and some photos of signs nearby, and we headed onto the trail about 9am.
After only 45 minutes of hiking on the sloppy and slippery trail, we noticed this stone marker on the left side.
It is in memory of Glenn R. Caveney of Bethesda, Maryland who lived from 1955-1971. According to mytripjournal.com, Glenn helped his father maintain a section of the AT in Shenandoah National Park before Glenn was killed in an auto accident when only sixteen years of age.
We experienced a mixed bag of trail conditions varying from the wider Fire Break paths with some grassy patches to stone pathways with water streaming over and around them. Commander Plodder took it all in stride and we just kept moving forward through the rain.
After covering 3.7 miles in a little over two hours, we noticed a shelter sign as we arrived at the Edward B. Garvey Shelter around 11:11am. According to mytripjournal.com, this shelter, which was built in 2001, was named after Edward Garvey who was a Boy Scout, an AT thru hiker and a volunteer for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. There were two female hikers on the lower platform and we could hear noise from a couple of hikers who were occupying the loft area which was accessed by an exterior set of stairs on the back of the shelter. The girls headed out onto the trail and Commander Plodder posed in front of the shelter.
Kudos to the trail maintainers who did the work at this shelter. It featured the best fire pit area which was surrounded by three nice bench seating areas. One of the best I have seen so far on the AT.
Here are the steps leading up to the loft. And the photo below shows the muddy conditions of the trail after we left the shelter and continued southbound. I could not find a shelter register to sign.
After hiking a little less than three more miles, we noticed a hiker, to our right, who was trying to fold up his tent and camp stuff to resume hiking. We walked a short way to our right and met this nice gentleman whose trail name is Kibs. Kibs accepted our offer to help. After getting his tarp, tent, stake poles, etc. folded up, we talked a while and shared our pre-retirement careers with Kibs who was in the prosthesis business before he retired. Kibs took our photo and we reciprocated the favor. We showed Kibs how to forward his photos to friends via email. He was very appreciative.
Kibs let me take a photo of the AT logo, made with black electrical tape, which adorned his prosthetic left arm.
After wishing Kibs well and providing him an extra Chocolate Power Bar, we continued hiking and began a fairly steep descent of about 500 feet with some switch backs on the trail to ease the strain on the legs during the descent. There was a warning sign not to take shortcuts which could harm the small bushes and plant life. We stayed on the trail.
Soon we crossed Weverton Road on our way to the C & O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal Tow Path. We turned right onto the tow path and passed the sign for Weverton, Milepost 58, which is part of the tow path running 184.5 miles from Cumberland, Maryland to Georgetown in Washington, DC.
This tow path is very wide and is used now by hikers and bicyclists often. Here is what the nicer and drier areas of the path looked like. There were many areas where large puddles covered the path from side to side. Sometimes we just slushed through the shallowest depth of the water. We were pretty much soaked through at this point anyway.
Hikers spend about 2.6 miles of the AT on this tow path which sits between the Potomac River on our left and the canal itself on our right. We could see the angry appearance of the Potomac River which was very turbulent and was a muddy color as it raced by heading toward the confluence with the Shenandoah River in Harpers Ferry. A northbound thru hiker stopped and discussed the rising water in the Potomac and asked how the trail was up ahead. We mentioned it was okay so far. Apparently, according to the thru hiker, the huge rainfalls had swollen the Potomac to nine feet above flood level and with the additional rain still falling, officials were expected the river to crest at 21 feet above flood level sometime later that night. There was a possibility that Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) personnel may close this section of the AT along the tow path due to the chance it may become severely flooded and impassable. I was glad we were getting this area of the AT hiked today as hikers in the next two days may not be able to cover this area.
Commander Plodder pointed to some control locks used to regulate the water level and flow in the canal as we neared the Byron Memorial Footbridge. There was a nearby caretaker’s residence for the canal lock and I took these photos before we climbed the steps up onto the footbridge.
Once on the bridge, we had now left Maryland, crossed the Potomac River and entered West Virginia. With the help of my hiking partner Commander Plodder, Maryland and West Virginia were my sixth and seventh states respectively that I have hiked in along the AT (of the 14 total states).
As soon as we crossed the footbridge, we were on High Street in Lower Town which is a very historic area of Harpers Ferry. We walked past many interesting buildings but we needed to finish this last .9 miles to get to the side trail for the ATC Headquarters. We began some very steep climbs up steps or paths on our way to Jefferson Rock which commands a beautiful view of the joining of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.
As the nearby informational sign notes, Thomas Jefferson described the view here during a visit to Harpers Ferry in 1783. I decided to be a rule follower and not climb onto the rock. In this rain and with the steep descent on the other side, a person would have to be out of their mind to even consider going onto Jefferson Rock. Onward we continued for another .4 miles on a winding dirt and rocky path until we reached the directional sign to the ATC at 4pm. It is clearly marked and a trail angel had left some glazed doughnuts in plastic containers as snacks near the base of the sign. We both passed on the doughnuts but we appreciated the sentiment.
Of course, the side trail was uphill as well but after just a little effort we got to street level and followed the blue blazes across the former campus of Storer College. After a quick map check and a few short blocks, we arrived at the ATC Headquarters on Washington Street. Other hikers were getting ready to leave and continue their hike. We waited a short while as a nice ATC volunteer came out and took our official ATC photo (and even took more photos using both our cell phones). Here we are as proud hikers.
We left our packs and trekking poles outside on a bench and went inside. While waiting for our official photo to be printed, Commander Plodder talked to one of the ATC staff about trail conditions and I struck up a conversation with a northbound through hiker whose trail name was Blueberry. Blueberry and her husband, Pickle, were thru hiking and as they were originally from down South, I offered my name and contact information in case they needed some help when they got to the area of New York State. We exchanged contact information and Blueberry and Pickle inserted their official photo into the master binder just ahead of our photo.
A note as to how the ATC numbers the hikers who pass through their building. Northbound thru hikers are given a number in red ink, southbounders are given a green colored number, section hikers (like us) are given blue colored numbers and flip floppers are given purple colored numbers. Flip floppers come in different styles but one example is a hiker who hikes northbound from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and then leaves the trail to go to Mt. Katahdin, Maine and hike southbound back to Harpers Ferry in the same calendar year. Here is our official photo as it appears in the binder.
We left the ATC and turned left for about a six block walk down Washington Street to the Tea Horse Hostel where we registered for two nights with the owner, Benjamin, who was very friendly and helpful. I highly recommend this hostel if you come near Harpers Ferry.
Benjamin explained how guests accessed the bunk rooms upstairs via a side staircase. We quickly checked out the bunk room. There were ten bunks in our room and only two upper bunks available so we got those two. Every bunk was booked for the night. We then drove the car we had left earlier that morning in the parking area behind the hostel to retrieve our other car at the Gathland State Park. We had a short drive back to the hostel where we enjoyed warm showers and dry clothes. The upstairs at the hostel has an open concept living room, dining room, kitchen with a separate smaller bunkroom containing four bunk beds and with our larger bunkroom with the ten bunks on the other end of the space. There is a bathroom off the dining room and there is a bathroom accessed from inside the large bunk room. Both bathrooms have a shower and tub. Benjamin provided us with linens for the bed, pillow case for the pillow, a small blanket as well as a towel and washcloth. Everything was clean and neat.
For a small fee of just six dollars, Benjamin washed and dried a load of clothes in the washer/dryer located in the downstairs reception area. I opted for this service which was great as my clothes were being cleaned while we walked the short distance to the Anvil Restaurant for dinner. It is just two buildings away from the hostel.
After dinner, we returned to the hostel and did some logistical planning for the next day’s hike. The hostel has Wifi access as well and other hikers, both section or thru hikers, were availing themselves of the internet connection. We met hikers from different parts of the U.S. and I spoke with a solo hiker named Fritz Lang from Germany. He had already hiked a significant portion of the southern part of the AT the prior summer and had now returned from Germany to finish the northern part all the way to Maine. I exchanged some information with Fritz in case I could help him when he reached New York State.
Commander Plodder and I had hiked 10.9 miles of the AT not counting the additional sideways hiking on side trails. My Iphone Health App said we had walked 12.3 miles, taken 34,967 steps and climbed 31 floors. After making up my bunk, I quickly fell asleep around 8:30pm. The expression on the AT is that 9pm is considered “hikers’ midnight”. Despite the bunkroom having ten bunks occupied by tired hikers, the place got quiet very quickly. Everyone was respectful of other guests and I kept my Petzl headlamp nearby in case I had to get up during the night. The red light setting would not disturb the other sleepers.
DAY TWO- Friday, May 18, 2018
Tea Horse Hostel owner Benjamin became the breakfast chef. Included with a stay at the Tea Horse is a free waffle breakfast with maple syrup, orange juice, fruit and coffee. I had my tea and at 7am Benjamin started cranking out the waffles on the two waffle irons. I asked how many waffles we could each have, Benjamin replied “As many as you want, I’ll keep making them.” We finished up with breakfast but before we left, Commander Plodder recommended moving our belongings onto two available bottom bunks so when we returned later in the afternoon, we had reserved the better accommodations. This was a great strategy which worked to perfection. I even had a wall outlet to charge my cell phone next to me when we returned later during the afternoon. Commander Plodder arranged a chair from the dining room as a night table next to his bunk.
We drove our cars to the two parking areas in order for us to hike southbound on Maryland AT Section #3 which is an 8.6 mile section between the Wolfsville Road Trailhead parking area near South Mountain State Park and the US Route 40 Trailhead parking area near the I-70 footbridge.
As we got out of our car to start hiking, we met two other hikers who were waiting for a ride to PenMar Park near the Mason-Dixon Line with Pennsylvania as they were going to hike that ten mile section today. They took our photo.
We exited the parking lot and turned left as our Google Maps app said the AT crossed Wolfsville Road south of the parking lot. Thankfully, the two hikers still awaiting their ride said that the AT crossed north of the parking area. We returned and there was an Appalachian Trail sign which had “north” painted over in brown paint. It directed us on a short side path to where the AT intersected. We turned left and headed southbound. Here is the photo of the sign in the lot and a sign at the AT intersection.
As soon as you cross the road, there is another sign as well. It was 8:52am and our second journey began. We headed south.
This was one of several different times where I needed help getting back oriented correctly on the AT. Commander Plodder kept us heading in the right direction. The first half mile of this section involves a fairly steep climb up about 400 feet in that short distance. The path in parts involved carefully placing your feet on larger boulders and hopping from one rock to the next. This is what it looked like.
A little before noon we had covered almost five miles as we arrived at the intersection with the Thurston Griggs Trail on our right and the Pogo Memorial Campsite on our left.
There was an AT logo painted on a large slab of rock.
We decided to eat our lunch sitting on some rocks in front of the Pogo Memorial Campsite which is in memory of Walter H. “Pogo” Rheinheimer Jr. who lived from 1958-1974. According to an article posted on BlueRidgeCountry.com by Pogo’s older brother, Pogo was actually born in 1957. He was a 16 year old member of the Mountain Club of Maryland and had hiked about half of the AT prior to his death by drowning in the Potomac River in 1974. There were a couple of different tenting areas and an old but functioning privy. It was a nice place to take our break and the sound of the rushing water was wonderful.
We finished lunch, quickly rock hopped over the nearby Black Rock Creek which had a few different tributaries thanks to the rain rolling across the ground. During the next hour we passed the signs for the Black Rock Cliffs and Annapolis Rocks, both to the west on short side trails.
After eight miles of hiking we arrived at the soft, leaf covered side trail to the Pine Knob Shelter. As we approached, we noticed some hikers in a larger group had set up a campfire nearby but separate from the shelter.
After a short stay to take a few photos, we only had about .6 miles left until the I-70 Footbridge. This part of the trail had a slight downhill and the AT passes underneath the deafening roar of the trucks and cars overhead on US Route 40. As we approached the I-70 Footbridge, I thought that we had to turn right, cross the footbridge and go to the side trail for the US Rt. 40 trailhead parking area.
As we were crossing the footbridge which was entirely enclosed by chain link fencing, I noticed numerous padlocks had been hooked onto the fencing.
This reminded me in a small way of the many padlocks hooked onto the fencing along the bridges across the Seine River in Paris, France. Lovers would hook their lock onto the fencing and toss the key into the Seine. Here, above I-70, the couples hooked their padlock and threw the key where? Hopefully not into windshields of oncoming vehicles. I guess you will just have to ask either Cullen & Mary or Kim & Bill what they did with their keys.
After about .3 miles, Commander Plodder said that he thought we should have turned left before the footbridge and not right across the footbridge. So we double-backed to the footbridge, crossed it for the second unnecessary time, and lo and behold, there were the side trail markers for the US Rt. 40 trailhead parking area. Thank you once again Commander Plodder, your career as an Officer in the Navy has served you well.
If you look closely at the base of the wooden post is the blue blaze and US 40 with an arrow. We walked just a short way and saw the parking area up ahead. Now, most of the rain we felt during the day, occurred because of wind blowing rain drops off the leaves and branches in the woods. As soon as we made it into our car, the skies opened up with very heavy rain which, fortunately, we had just missed. We drove to pick up our other car in the Wolfsville Road lot and as we were leaving that lot, we saw the same two gentlemen from this morning as they were emerging from the woods having just finished their ten mile hike from the Pennsylvania border. After a couple of days, we were getting a little more efficient at driving in this area.
Although my Iphone battery had gone dead, Commander Plodder’s Iphone Health app recorded that we had walked 9.2 miles, taken 28,914 steps and had climbed 34 floors on the second day of our adventure.
After showering, we decided to return to the Anvil Restaurant again for dinner. We did not want to walk in the rain which continued since our drive back from the AT. We sat at a table in a back room, different from the prior night, and met our server Kaylee. She was a bubbly, teenager who was very proud of her colorful nail polish. She brought us our beverages and I asked her what the menus ‘Soup du Jour’ was. Kaylee, believing that I needed a translation and that I was a little hard of hearing, explained that it meant “SOUP…OF…THE…DAY”. I asked what the soup was for today and Kaylee said “we don’t have one”. So I got the same salad and cheeseburger as last night.
We returned to the Tea Horse and Commander Plodder reminded me that I still had clothes from today’s hike in the dryer down stairs. I picked them up, thanked Benjamin again, and headed upstairs. After talking with different hikers, we learned that the ATC had closed the trail between the Footbridge over the Potomac, along the tow path, up the trail north to the Keep Tryst Road area near I-340. Hikers were arranging to get shuttles to be dropped off above the closed area in order to continue their hike.
One couple at the hostel, Dave and Desert Rose from Arizona, needed a ride to the Weverton Road parking area which is located just north of the closed area of the AT. We offered to drop them off the next morning as we were heading in that direction for our last hiking day.
DAY THREE-Saturday, May 19, 2018
We decided to hike MD AT Section #4 which is a 4.9 mile long section between the trailhead parking area on US Alt. Rt. 40 and the same US Rt. 40 trailhead parking area near the I-70 footbridge we had used the day before. We planned to hike northbound so we could retrieve our car and begin the trip back toward where our spouses awaited us in Virginia. Alas, we left before 7am and could not partake in Benjamin’s free waffle breakfast this morning.
After dropping Dave and Desert Rose at the Weverton Road parking area, we arranged our cars to begin our northbound hike from the parking area just east of the Old South Mountain Inn located on US Alt. 40 near Turners Gap, Maryland. We headed north across the road around 7:45am and it was raining AGAIN. But it did not matter. We were use to it by now.
As soon as one starts hiking in the muddy path, a stone church is visible on the right.
We kept hiking across Monument Road on our way along the 1.6 mile distance to the Washington Monument State Park. We arrived in less than an hour, were able to use the restroom facilities located near the parking area and then saw the directional sign for the Mount Vernon Shelter located in the park.
We stopped there shortly to take a break so I could put on my pack cover. We departed after the brief stop, turned to head north on the AT and came to the directional signs for the Washington Monument. There were informational signs at intervals along the way.
Here I am standing next to the Monument which is the first completed monument dedicated to the memory of George Washington. It was begun on July 4, 1827.
Commander Plodder and I walked the spiral stone staircase inside the monument up to the open air roof where there were signs identifying distant landmarks. Here is a photo of one of the informational signs which depicts a beautifully clear day. Unfortunately, you can see the foggy mist we saw this day, but it was fun to see this landmark. It is a wonderful piece of history.
After descending the stairs at the monument, Commander Plodder made sure I reconnected with the AT in the northerly direction.
Our hike continued under a Powerline and then back into the woods where an artistic trail maintainer with a chainsaw expressed some artistic flair on the end of a cut log.
After about another 1.8 miles we crossed Boonsboro Mountain Road where we entered a residential area. We passed a side trail for Bartman Hill Trail and then had only about .4 miles until we reached the I-70 footbridge again. After crossing it, we spoke briefly to a couple of women hikers who were going for a short hike and had just parked their car at the same lot where we were headed. We noted that the rain seemed to have stopped for about an hour. We made it back to our car at 10:54am.
Our Iphone Health App recorded that we walked 6 miles, taken 17,391 steps and climbed 30 floors on our Day 3 hike.
The Iphone Health App totals for the three days reads as follows: 27.5 miles, 81,272 steps and 95 floors climbed.
We then drove south to retrieve our other car near the Old South Mountain Inn and then headed south for Virginia where we would rejoin our wives for dinner. It was fun sharing stories both ways. I was glad to hear our wives, Bernadette and Sandy, had so much fun together in Sandy’s Art Studio and after we admired their completed art projects, they enjoyed hearing some of our AT stories.
One of the highlights of this entire trip was saved for after dinner on Saturday. Commander Plodder’s wife, Sandy, had mentioned that she believed she could outwit me in a drug search and hide things in her living room in such a way that I could never find them. She knew that I had a long career in law enforcement as a police officer and as an FBI Special Agent, but felt she would prevail in this exceptional match of wits. In fairness, she had some time to devise some tricky little hiding places but I felt I would do just fine. Boy was I wrong!
Sandy provided me with the above written set of rules for the contest. I had a few additional follow up questions in order to adhere to the strict rules of the game. Essentially, there were five pills hidden as well as a smaller cache of pills in a different hiding place.
A timer was set and I was “on the clock”. I started the search in her living room. I found the second pill within eight minutes and later, after a longer period of time, found the third of five pills. I followed the rules as best I could and only damaged one hanging bracket when I removed a picture from a wall. But, I will admit, that I did not find two of the pills nor did I uncover the ingenious hiding location for the cache of pills, (handsewn into a hem of a quilt), despite being so close when time was called. Sandy was a worthy adversary and while it was a tie, she clearly proved she had excellent skills of concealment. I guess I have not watched enough of those CSI shows to know how to search for evidence. Congrats Sandy!
I have now hiked a total of 282.7 miles of the AT: 89.8 miles in New York (completed), 71.9 miles in New Jersey (completed), 50.4 miles in Connecticut (completed), 5.0 miles in Massachusetts, 41.2 miles in Pennsylvania, 23.5 miles in Maryland and .9 miles in West Virginia.
Thank you so much to Sandy and my wife, Bernadette, who made it possible for Commander Plodder and I to have so much fun for three days. Bernadette and Sandy felt they had the ‘better’ vacation but the two boys who hiked in nonstop rain and mud know the real truth!
More hikes to plan.